NEWS | July 30, 2021

Bridging the gap between maritime security and law enforcement

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Justin Stumberg

From narcotics, to human trafficking, to financial crimes, military operations at sea seeks to counteract a wide range of criminal activity.

Discovered evidence not handled correctly by visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) teams could be compromised and interfere with a successful criminal investigation.

 “The key to successfully identifying, disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations on the high seas is a strong military and law enforcement partnership,” said Kyle Burns, Senior Department of Homeland Security liaison to U.S. Africa Command.

To help VBSS teams understand this important relationship, Burns leads discussions on maritime smuggling techniques, trends, threats, and evidence recovery for the various boarding teams involved in exercise Cutlass Express 2021.

“Training like this helps show the holistic government approach that is vital during maritime exercises to take and at-sea seizure from cradle to grave,” Burns said.

Burns’ training covers trends, methodologies, and realistic expectations for their boardings.

 “It’s important to show that a seizure doesn’t stop once the contraband hits the pier,” Burns said. “There are a lot of steps involved and you’re only getting to half the problem if you’re only taking the narcotics from the boat.”

VBSS teams encourage a holistic approach to the work they do out at sea.

“Our job in law enforcement is to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations,” Burns said. “You can only do that through a military law enforcement partnership.”

According to Burns, Homeland Security is starting to integrate law enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, DEA, and Customs and Border Protection into scenario injects in order to maximize the realism of future scenarios.

Tiago Zanella, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Law of the Sea expert, discussed the importance of international law of the sea. As a native Brazilian and Portuguese speaker, Zanella trains personnel in East Africa, most notably Mozambique and Angola..  

“One of the most important things that partner nations need to understand is their power of jurisdiction in each maritime space for each crime,” Zanella said. “So if you catch someone in your countries Economic Exclusion Zone, knowing what you can do. Without law, the work that the visit, board, search, and seizure teams are doing will be for nothing. “You have to understand what powers you have.”

Zanella admits that the complexities of international maritime law often prove confusing so he relies on hypothetical examples of topics such as drug trafficking and illegal fishing.

“It’s really important to do the practical exercises because it forces participants to think, discuss, and answer in a group setting,” Zanella said. “In theory, everything is simple but in the real world it can become complex.”

One of the scenarios discussed was the smuggling of migrants. Zanella describes the situation of a routine patrol operation where the Kenyan Coast Guard finds a boat sailing 18 miles off the coast with an excessive number people on board.  He then poses the question; what are Kenya’s maritime law enforcement powers and how should they proceed?’

Zanella also enjoys fielding questions from the participants on real life scenarios the maritime teams have faced on the water in the past.

“One of the Kenya teams asked me about illegal fishing in the Economic Exclusion Waters between Kenya and Tanzania,” Zanella said. “The illegal fishing boats usually stay right on the boarder where they fish illegally in Kenya then, before they are caught, slip away over the border back to Tanzania.”

Zanella said that the team wanted to know what law enforcement concerns they need to consider as they face the situation in the future.

“My goal here is to help them understand what they can do using international law,” Zanella said. “We have lot of things to talk about, it’s a big issue, it’s not that simple, but for now helping them understand their jurisdiction powers is my top priority.”

CE 21 is one of three African regional “Express” series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet undertaken to provide African forces and international partners with collaborative opportunities on comprehensive maritime security concerns.

U.S. Naval Forces Europe – Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.